Looking For the Perfect Beat: Feedback Loops, Media Panopticism, and the Hip-Hop DJ

Abstract: 

The aim of this research is to understand how disc jockeys (DJs) see their relationships to music industry and listener communities. By understanding the DJ, this project aims to better understand the relationship between the people and the media. The way the DJ interacts with a crowd is like a feedback loop where both parties affect each other simultaneously. The media's relationship to consumers seems to operate in a similar feedback loop. There is a significant difference between the two loops. Consumers often do not know when they are being advertised to; therefore, they do not know when they are being observed and analyzed. The media’s relationship to consumers seems to be a form of panopticism within the feedback loop.

Table of Contents: 

    Introduction

    “The [Hip-Hop] culture was invented by a DJ.
    What role could be more important?!” – DJ Metaphysic

    From the dawn of the Hip-Hop movement, disc jockeys (DJs) have played a substantial role in its formation. The DJ once solely selected what people heard and personally discovered and created new music. Now that Hip-Hop has developed into a popular music form, it has been transformed from an exclusive and private subculture into that of a mainstream product. Due to this cultural change, the role of the DJ has seemed to change as well. The aim of my research is to understand how DJs see themselves in relation to the music industry and their listener communities. This project focuses on DJs as a primary link between the music industry and the people. Because the DJ is both a player in the music industry as well as a participant in the community, the DJ maintains an interesting vantage point, wholly understanding the synergy between the two entities. Through a series of semi-structured interviews with both radio and club DJs, this research has sought to identify the ways in which the DJs view themselves as distributors of music. Ultimately by better understanding the Hip-Hop DJ, this project attempts to better understand the relationship between the media and the people to whom it broadcasts.

    To better understand the relationship between the media and its consuming public, numerous dialogues address the issue of media’s direct effects on the people. Numerous studies have been concerned with media effects and whether or not the media content is a direct reflection of its society. There must be a point of interest for the public to want to engage with the programming, so culturally relevant content would seem essential in media programming. Elizabeth Perse addresses some of these topics, Wimmer and Dominick (2000) explained that “research on any mass medium follows a logical and predictable progression: (a) research on the medium itself, how it operates, and the content that it delivers; (b) research on the uses and users of the medium, who makes up the audience, and what are their reasons for using the medium; (c) research on the effects of the medium; and finally (d) research on how to improve the medium” (Perse, 2001, p. 259). Few studies that I have come across deal with the active processes of how media companies gain the knowledge of and build a relationship with society writ large. I have encountered limited accounts of how and why the media companies actually seek to reflect the culture. The process of creating media content does not seem to be automatically constructed simply through the nature of the relationship between media companies and society. Just as the nature of Hip-Hop has changed the way that the DJ engages with the people and the culture, presumably since the nature of society is constantly changing, so is its relationship with its media. Through a series of semi-structured interviews, archival research, and participant observations, this study aims to look at how the DJ has mediated the changes in his/her relationship with the people of the Hip-Hop community. This project ultimately aims to give insight into how media companies have done the same.

    Contextual Concepts

    A society’s relationship with its media is grounded in the idea that there truly is a relationship. The state of the society affects the media and visa versa. The effects of media are well researched and yet still controversial because of their unquantifiable properties. According to Elizabeth Perse, “The study of media effects is grounded in the belief that mass communication has noticeable effects on individuals, society, and culture. Evidence for these findings, though, is problematic” (Perse, 2001, p. 22). There is a lack of truly convincing evidence to prove the extent of media influence on society and the techniques for observing and understanding media effects can be called anything but refined. These hindrances cannot claim to nullify the idea that media effects exist and that media’s effects on society do not have substantial consequences when they influence a great mass of people. Perse explains the background and importance of mass media studies by outlining several models of media effects in areas such as socialization, sexually explicit content and its effects on crisis. She explains that, “As mass communications students and scholars, we should always keep in mind that the goal of our study is improvement – to find ways to mitigate the negative effects and enhance the positive effects of mass communication” (Perse, 2001, p. 259).

    Some of these effects include that of mass or popular culture creation. “Popular culture and the mass media have a symbiotic relationship: each depends on the other in an intimate collaboration” (Shuker, 2001, p. 3, quoting Turner, 1984, p. 4). This relationship is one that is often discussed as being problematic because of the power that media holds as an ubiquitous entity of influence. Dire consequences can result from industry corruption, power abuse, and an underestimation of the power potential of the media itself. The events ensuing from the radio broadcast of the Mercury Theater’s War of the Worlds in 1938 shed light on these potential consequences. The broadcast depicted a Martian invasion in New Jersey. An estimated 1.2 million people succumbed to hysteria and panicked in the streets. Many fled to the country while others seized arms and prepared to fight the pugnacious invaders. These events transpired despite interruptions in the program to reassure listeners that it was mere fantasy. Scientists who research media effects in labs have said that the influence of the media on the masses is much less substantial than previously thought (Perse 2001). One must use discretion when considering these lab results. Many lab experiments failed to accurately recreate the potential effects of the media because they limit participant response variability. Without knowing for sure, the possibility still remains that many are underestimating media’s mass effects.

    This subject of mass effects encompass other areas that lie outside of mass communication as well. Antonio Gramsci defines cultural hegemony in his work The Prison Notebooks (1975). The scholarly discourse surrounding hegemony has stamped it as a philosophical and sociological concept wherein a society of diverse individuals can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes. The ideas of the ruling class then come to be seen by the majority of society as the norm, as universal ideologies. Gramsci, a Neo-Marxist, constructs the concept of hegemony through the lens of economics and capitalism. He saw the dominant ideology as being perceived as universally beneficial, while actually being exclusively beneficial to only the ruling class. He explains that cultural hegemony is neither monolithic nor unified; rather, it is a complex of layered social structures, each obtaining its own vocation and internal logic while simultaneously recognizing and contributing to the greater whole. Each individual’s life contributes to the greater society’s hegemony, but most do not recognize the hegemonic structures they live in because they take the norms to be common sense and never question them. Gramsci cries out, asking individuals to neither perceive the prevalent cultural norms as natural nor inevitable. Rather, he asks individuals to investigate the prevalent norms for their roots in societal domination and their implications for societal control and liberation.

    Connected to the understanding of hegemony or a homogeneous society is its conception as a means of control. Hegemony creates normalizing effects on a society, eventually homogenizing the preceding individualism within the population. Michel Foucault (1978) speaks about the Panoptcon, a jail that was designed by Jeremy Bentham in 1785 in relation to the idea of control. Refer to Figure 1. The panopticon has a watchtower in the middle of a “periperic ring” of cells that have two windows each that allow light to fill each cell and cast the prisoner into a state of perpetual observation. While in the center tower, the single guard exudes an aura of omniscience because no prisoner knows exactly if and when they are being watched. The prisoners must then behave at all times and eventually discipline themselves, thus producing a homogenizing effect on the entire population of prisoners. “The Panopticon is a marvelous machine which, whatever use one may wish to put it to, produces homogeneous effects of power” (Foucault, 1977, p. 202). Foucault’s statement, “whatever use one may wish to put it to” is interesting and important because the principle of his book shows how the concept and installment of the panopticon has expanded past jail walls into society itself. Society itself has become a building where each individual is being constantly observed by institutions of control. This new type of supervision has created a carceral society where the knowledge and inspection of men is used to control their actions and create a hegemonic effect throughout society. This panopticism, he argues, is woven into the fabric of society where the individual is totally exposed while the forces of coercion are hard to discern because they are veiled behind the natural mechanisms of society. Introducing the concept of “power-knowledge”, where institutions of control (e.g., schools, barracks, factories, prisons, etc.) all use their knowledge as justification and means for control and homogenization, he cautions that society is filled with panopticon-like institutions and there is now an systematic correction of individuality that is used to ultimately utilize wo/man for the production of power.

    Research and Findings

    This research focused on the DJ as the primary link between music media and its listening communities. The DJ maintains a direct connection between the radio and music industries and the public, giving him/her a unique and insightful position within the structures of media distribution. Essentially the DJ is a part of both the industry and community worlds and many feel a strong affiliation with both entities. Interviews with the DJs revealed there to be a significant difference in the way the DJ interacts with the crowd while working in a club and how the DJ interacts with the crowd from the radio station. The club DJs explain that they interact with the crowd directly through the music often with the sole intention of delivering the shared social experience of lively entertainment. DJ Experience, a club DJ and music producer from New York said, “Okay well, like I said my name is DJ Experience and the reason I chose that name was because I truly believe that listening to music is ultimately like a metaphysical experience … and deep in you, you can control the people’s emotions. Like music, it … controls emotions from the sound or vibrations or anything else everybody’s in tune with – that type of stuff, so I go completely off of the vibe of the crowd….” (DJ Experience, personal communication, July 25, 2009). The DJs explain this idea of control as a systematic observation and analysis of crowd reactions. Upon analysis of the crowd’s reaction, the DJ is able to discern the next best song selection for the desired crowd response. DJ Chopper, a club DJ from the Dallas area explained,

    Me myself, I just make the crowd go on a little journey basically. You take them on a journey, ya know? You wanna take ‘em up and get them hyped. You put the songs that make them hype. And it’s kind of like a power control thing for me, you know. If I want their hands to go up, I put on a song that makes their hands go up. I got to control the crowd so it’s just maintaining that control, making sure you keep everybody occupied, you know, happy. (DJ Chopper, personal communication, July 23, 2009)

    I found this form of control to be more of a temporary symbiotic relationship because the DJ is simultaneously controlled by the crowd through their reactions to the song selection. If the crowd wants the DJ to play something different, they can walk up to the booth and request a new song. Also, by understanding the DJs intentions and directly observing his/her style, the crowd can consciously vary its reaction and input to make the DJ continue or stop playing a certain type of music.

    People will look at me like, “What the hell are you playing?! What is that?!” Like, if I’m going from hip hop to Spanish, you know, the people will look at me like, “what the hell” and they will look all pissed off and they start cursing me out, or whatever. (DJ Chopper, personnel communication, July 23, 2009)

    The systematic observation and response to each other creates a type of feedback loop in which the crowd and DJ are both intertwined. Refer to Figure 2. The DJ inputs a song into the feedback system (i.e. the party) and it then affects the crowd. The crowd then inputs a reaction (e.g., dancing, complaining, inquiring about the particular song); the particular reaction then affects the DJ and continues to perpetuate the loop. The intention of the DJ is to delegate the music and try to receive the exact response from each individual within the crowd. The DJs try to reap a positive crowd response by creating a homogeneously entertaining experience through song. The radio stations many of the club DJs also work in have a similar goal in that they want to obtain homogeneous listener preference. The feedback responses monitored concerning a certain song is the determining factor in the song’s airtime. DJ He-Man is a club and radio DJ as well as the station’s program director. He explained, “If the song is a hit, it’s gonna get played. Because you’re always going to have the same reaction … from Texas to New York … and that’s what makes a hit song” (DJ He-Man, personal communication, July 29, 2009). Radio stations try to assess and analyze these reactions. Stations have a close relationship with music industry companies who, along with all other media conglomerates, have this same goal of achieving hegemony within the structures of each conglomerate company.

    The majority of all media in the world is produced by about ten massive conglomerate companies. Some examples of these conglomerates include Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, Disney, Vivendi, and Time Warner Inc. Media critic and NYU communications professor Mark Crispin-Miller explains how they all comprise and represent “the grand convergence of the previously disparate US culture industries–many of them vertically monopolized already–into one global super-industry providing most of our imaginary ‘content’” (Budd and Kirsch quoting Crispin-Miller, 205, p. 309). This content includes any means of mass communication, including radio and television, newspapers, and magazines that widely reach or influence people. There are independent media producers, and, with Internet-based companies and communication becoming available to most, the number of independent projects is growing every day. Yet, the fact still remains that no company, independent of these gargantuans of media production, has the resources, capital, connections, and influence to make a substantial mark on American culture. These media giants own and control many other big entertainment companies such as NBC, Bad Boy Records, The Wall Street Journal, DreamWorks, and MTV. Multiple mergers of the past few decades have created a complex web of business relations that now shape and define America’s media and popular culture. These relationships permit these smaller companies to buy and or sell products and talent for cheap prices. They also provide means to easily cooperate with cross promotion because they are all owned by the same parent company. These mergers have also laid the foundation for the consolidation of media production, distribution, and control. The concentration of media production and distribution is often regarded as a problem by many scholars for society because it lessens diversity within the assortments of media and artists who create it, “… innovation and diversity suffer when a few large firms dominate a market” (Dowd, 2004, p. 1415). Many conglomerates have often eliminated localized production altogether. For example, many radio companies broadcast homogeneous satellite programming to numerous stations simultaneously. With the exception of advertisements, this programming is usually without any local content. However, studies do show that greater diversity occurs when “… dominant firms ably absorb an expanding range of producers and genres” (Dowd, 2004, p. 1413). This idea of diversity however does not account for centralized control and hegemony within the market. The “open system”, as Dowd refers to this idea of absorption, in fact, “… offers a mechanism (i.e., the expansion of decentralized production) by which the hegemonic process occurs” (Dowd, 2004, p. 1413).

    The consolidation and resulting hegemony of the media results in a conglomerate need to create the same hegemonic effects in the public, to make sure that their products are purchased. The conglomerates need consolidation of consumer preference, creating a predictable and, thus, controllable market to maximize profit. “Capitalist production entails a constant process of planning strategies for maximising the potentiality of accumulation and simultaneously attempting to create predictable outcomes amid messy social relations” (Rosati, 2007, p. 562). In today’s world media is simply always there. Its constant contact with the masses enables the media to constantly influence the general public through music, news, and other forms of mass communication. The media conglomerates aim to simply be

    … there the moment a consumer walks out the front door and to strategically position their influential messages so they are received by the American public. As North America’s most diverse out-of-home advertising provider, we deliver an unmatched variety of media forms and an unmatched network to strategically position your message. WE CALL THIS ‘POWERFUL PRESENCE’…. North America is our audience and we deliver millions of impressions, one at a time…. (Rosati, 2007, p. 564 quoting Viacom Outdoor [original emphasis])

    By trying to overtake all social space, they also occupy all social time, eventually creating “shared social experiences” where these manifestations of social infrastructure create “the mechanisation and standardization of behavioral feedback” (Rosati, 2007, p. 564).

    Hegemony is the mechanism for systematic observation and analyzable feedback. The DJ tries to create it, and radio stations and media conglomerates try to do the same in society. There is a significant difference between the DJ, media companies, and radio stations. The DJ noticeably observes and communicates with the crowd, openly marketing a particular song to the crowd. “As a DJ, I’m kinda on the forefront … because we play the music that the artists make. So, I promote them every time I play the song…. So we’re advertising for the artist” says DJ 5 (DJ Experience, personal communication, July 25, 2009). Contrastingly, many of the observations and marketing techniques of the radio stations and media conglomerates remain unseen by the general consumer population. “The general public probably has no idea what’s even going on within these corporate companies” Experience says. Hegemony is desired in order to reap maximum capital from a predictable market. In order to ever capitalize on hegemony, the conglomerates need to constantly try to maintain it. This achievement is accomplished through the means of marketing research conducted to assess consumer behaviors. The United States, with $6.7 billion in annual revenues, has the highest single country revenue in survey research; three times higher than the second largest single country, the UK with $2 billion. The US survey research industry represents about 35% of the total global industry (Council of American Research Organizations, n.d.).

    Some companies hire others to do this research for them. Companies such as Look-Look Inc. solicit their services by, “… giving clients both qualitative and quantitative data in easy to understand trend packets’” (Rosati, 2007, p. 559, quoting Look-Look, 2006). These companies meet with people, mainly teenagers, who they categorize as trendsetters. These trendsetters are identified as persons who are “ahead of the curve” because they are presumably going to influence what all other people do. Look-Look interviews teens about what they like and do not like, what they find cool and not cool. They then analyze the data, compile it, and put it on their website. For approximately $20,000 each, companies can gain access to the Look-Look website, referred to by Frontline correspondent Douglas Rushkoff as “A Rosetta Stone of teen culture.” So-called “ethnographic studies” ascertain what seems like mundane information about a teen (e.g., romantic relationships, dreams, aspirations, etc.) in relation to media companies. Regardless of how someone posits their identity within society, their demographic is observed and analyzed; therefore, making it able to be marketed to. Even those with a self-proclaimed opposition to the mainstream are observed and analyzed to eventually be marketed to. The companies use this information not to understand what individuals want (because individuality is in opposition to hegemony), but rather to understand how to market their products to the individuals with more sophistication, “You have to listen to exactly what they want and are thinking, so that you can give them what you want them to have” (Dretzen & Goodwin, 2001, Interview with Crispin-Miller).

    The knowledge gained from this meticulous research is a substantial and powerful tool for the media companies. They constantly observe the public with the help of marketing companies like Acxiom (2009). Acxiom compiles and analyzes data gathered from personal information, to census data, tax records, and customer records supplied by credit card companies and corporations that are Axiom clients. This data is bought by politicians, other companies, and anyone who can afford it, providing the recipient of this information with a better understanding of how to market to and persuade consumers to vote for their candidate or buy their products. These companies observe and analyze in order to gain knowledge of how to control the market.

    They’re using all the most brilliant means of measurement and surveillance to figure out what we’re all about. They focus group everything in a million ways. So we have a highly sophisticated enterprise that’s engaged in a kind of regressive project. They’re trying to sell as much junk as they can by appealing to the worst in all of us, but they do it some extremely civilized means. (Dretzen & Goodwin, 2001, Interview with Crispin-Miller)

    The deep inner workings and tactics of these media companies and their marketing are rarely seen, if not even hidden, from the general consuming public.

    The privacy information center says Torch Concepts combined the JetBlue information with additional personal information from Acxiom, including demographic data and Social Security numbers, to determine if passengers could be deemed a security risk, according to the privacy information center complaint. (Whiting, 2003, para. 5)

    The capacity of their power and reach of their gaze is substantial and unnoticed by many. The radio stations act in a similar fashion as the conglomerate companies. As described by a DJ who also works in radio as a program director, “We don’t want the listeners to know that there isn’t someone to pick up the phone every time…. Requests really don’t matter at all” (DJ He-Man, personal communication, July 29, 2009). There is a direct disjunction between what the media companies see and know and what the listeners and consumers truly understand about their relationships to these companies. There is a manipulation of the social contract between media and its consumers. This gives the media companies unprecedented power over the general public,

    … they have already done research and said ‘Okay, this type of person likes this kind of music, which buys this type of burger. So, we’re gonna advertise this type of burger on this type of radio station. If they find out a certain minority group, or a type of person, or even a majority group, or age group of people like this type of burger, and those type of people listen to this type of station…. You’re not gonna hear a salad commercial! You’re gonna hear ‘This is the juiciest best burger! It’s the one you’ve been waiting for!… Because they already know you like it…. And every radio station is like that. (DJ He-Man, personal communication, July, 29. 2009)

    Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon design allows anyone in the central watchtower to have the ability to watch any and all prisoners, gaining both knowledge about and power over them through the mere acts of observation and analysis. The prisoners know that they can be watched at any point, though they never know if and when it is actually the case. Consequently, they discipline themselves to behave. The Panopticon, as a architectural structure, cannot be denied as a ingenious invention, but Foucault also explains that

    … the Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is a diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form…. [Further, the Panopticon] … must be understood as a generalizable model of functioning; a way of defining power relations in terms of everyday life of men. (Foucault, 1977, p. 205)

    One must come to understand the Panopticon not as a rigid model of an institutional building, but rather as a model for a disciplinary social structure that

    … can in fact be integrated into any function (education, medical treatment, production, punishment) … it can constitute a mixed mechanism in which relations of power (and of knowledge) may be precisely adjusted, in the smallest detail, to the processes that are to be supervised. (Foucault, 1977, p. 206)

    The constant and obscured observation of wo/man enables the observer to control and manipulate people and situations for his/her own means. Bentham believed that power should be simultaneously visible and unverifiable. Foucault explains how Bentham’s Panopticon prison function mainly relies on these two basic principles: First, the prisoner can always see the shadow of the central watchtower looming in the distance. Second, the prisoner does not know if and when his/her silhouette is being watched by the guard. Merely knowing that observation is a possibility enables the functioning of the basic panoptic arrangement.

    Bentham’s Panopticon used fear to induce hegemony throughout the prison. Similarly, the mainstream conglomerate companies use the concentration of media production and distribution and the monopoly of social experiences to achieve the same goal of hegemony within society. While the Panopticon’s architectural structures are used as a means to achieve a “homogeneous effect of power” (Foucault, 1977, p. 202), the social infrastructures of the mainstream media allow them to both create and maintain hegemony through the pursuit of constant presence in all social experiences. Rosati further explains,

    Media then engage in both the annihilation of space and time and the conquest of time through space simultaneously in order to impose monopoly power over the practice of aspects of cultural life. Like former imperial powers, media companies compete for an empire of organised social time, activity and meaning for the accumulation of capital. (Rosati, 2007, p. 563)

    Their socio-temporal arrangements with the consumers provide “… the formula for this generalization. It programmes at the level of an elementary and easily transferable mechanism, the basic functioning of a society penetrated through and through with disciplinary mechanisms” (Foucault, 1977, p. 209). Again one must not understand at the expression ‘disciplinary mechanisms’ with traditional and concrete meanings. These mechanisms are to be understood as some type of means of control. Foucault states that

    [d]iscipline may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power, a modality for its existence, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a ‘physics’ or ‘anatomy’ of power, a technology. (Foucault, 1977, p. 215)

    The mainstream conglomerates use a number of instruments to record data on consumer actions and activities. “Ethnographic” techniques assess consumer preferences, levels of application place advertisements in strategic locations and tailor them to certain demographics. They have numerous “target populations,” and also very sophisticated technologies to assist with all of these procedures. This is all, and only for, the control of the market in order to utilize wo/men for the production of capital. That is the basic tenant of the idea of the Panopticon, control wo/man for the utilization of power.

    This dynamic between the average consumer, media conglomerates, and/or radio stations can thus only be described as a form of panopticism in society. Refer to Figure 3. Foucault explains how the panoptic structures of society are organized by these institutions of control that are woven into the very fabrics of society itself. Their methodologies for achieving the goal of utilizing wo/man for the production of power are constituted in the techniques of discipline which rose out of seventeenth century institutional protocols, according to Foucault. These techniques have been used for the control and correction of wo/men in institutions such as schools, barracks, and prisons ever since their introduction. “The disciplines function increasingly as techniques for making useful individuals…. Hence also their rooting in the most important, most central and most productive sectors of society” (Foucault, 1977, p. 211). The media is one of our most central and important industries in America today. It is also one of the top grossing industries in the United States as well as in other countries overseas, making it one of the most powerful industries in the world.

    My findings indicate that many people in America can name some of the big media producers and many know that they conduct market research, but much of the general consumer population simply does not know how the information these companies are analyzing is actually being compiled and used. Media companies constantly observe consumer reactions to media advertisements and products are and critiqued so as to provide companies with the knowledge of how to better market their products to the consumer. It appears as though each party affects the other in a similar feedback loop as the DJ and crowd engage in while at the club. The significant difference between the two loops seems to be that, while the DJ is directly observable to the crowd and his inputs into the loop (i.e. the songs) are always clearly heard, the conglomerates own so many media companies they have infused themselves into the fabrics of society making their actions and intentions unverifiable. The feedback loop between media companies and their consumers is presumably less of a loop rather than a one-sided assessment system for the media conglomerate companies. All consumer buying and spending habits, census data, etc. are completely exposed for these companies to easily gain access to, while little is known about the inner workings and intentions of these companies because many of them still remain as private entities. Though the media companies are influenced by our actions, like the DJ is influenced by the crowd, the influence on the consumers is manipulative because intent and reason are rarely, if ever, revealed to the consumers. DJ He-Man explains how, “[Station song selection] does a injustice to the listeners because they hear a song over and over again, not because they particularly like it, but just because money has been put into it” (DJ He-Man, personal communication, July 29, 2009). Though the DJ does not reveal his exact intent with every song selection to the crowd, but the crowd could presumably try to assess why the DJ put on a song because the individuals within the crowd can accurately assume what actions of theirs the DJ was probably taking note of. Contrastingly, the advertisements and strategically placed media propaganda are now becoming so deeply integrated into our entertainment and culture. This ad infiltration creates a social structure where the consumer never actually knows which of his/her actions media companies are monitoring and/or what they are truly using the analyzed data for. “He is seen, but does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault, 1977, p. 200).

    The “feedback” loop connecting media to its consumers seems to be tightening rapidly, becoming more constant and instantaneous with the development of new market research techniques and technology. Entertainment programming is becoming less substantive and more materialistic, embedded with advertisements from corporate sponsors. Many entertainment programs are being specifically engineered not to provide good media content, but rather to advertise a product placed within its content, or moreover, to have the content act as an advertisement in itself. The lines between advertisement and culture are blurring because of this advertisement and product infused entertainment content. Crispin-Miller explains how,

    … the minute-long spot; the 30-second spot; the split 30s, [which are] two 15-second ads, and so on; the magazine ad; the newspaper ad; the billboard — it might seem that many of them are being phased out. But they’re not being phased out in favor of plain old civic space. They’re being phased out in favor of a kind of advertising, a kind of propaganda, that’s far more profound. It’s far more deeply rooted. The aim here is not so much to find a show that people like and then get your ads on it. The aim here is for the advertisers to create a show that is itself an extended ad. In a curious way, we’re moving back in time to the days when advertisers actually presented radio shows and TV shows. But this is far more sophisticated than that. (Dretzen & Goodwin, 2001, Interview with Crispin-Miller)

    Radio station program schedules are solely based around market research conducted to assess consumer song preferences. As one DJ notes,

    More than anything in radio is you don’t touch the logs. You don’t touch the music logs. The music is where it plays. It’s scientifically put together by the marketing reps…. You don’t touch it. Even as a DJ, back in the 70s you would pick your music and put on what you wanna play…. Nowadays, you come in and you talk about what’s already programmed. (DJ He-Man, personal communication, July 29, 2009)

    Music lyrics are being infused with marketing through lyrics, certain ad campaigns are being featured in music videos, and popular actors are hired to wear certain clothing brands. Teenagers emulate these celebrities and want to be like them, want to wear the same clothes that they do. The conglomerates play directly into consumer emotions and desires, because the companies have the ability to figure out exactly what they are. Market researcher Clotaire Rapaille explains the “emotional logic” behind a particular Folgers commercial:

    In the kind of communication I’m developing and using, with 50 of the Fortune 100 companies who are my clients, almost full time, it is not enough to give a cortex message. “Buy my product because it’s 10 percent cheaper”: That’s cortex. Well, if the other is 15 percent cheaper, I move to the others. You don’t buy loyalty with percentages. That is key. It’s not a question of numbers; it’s the first reptilian reaction. (Dretzen & Goodwin, 2004, Interview with Rapaille)

    The general consumer is probably unaware when and where s/he is being watched, observed, and or analyzed because the marketing and media conglomerates have woven their ads themselves into the fabrics of society and culture. The institutions, procedures, and tactics of control are hard to discern because of this. Examples include a 2007 case where Sony was involved in legal battles for creating a fictitious movie reviewer to give good reviews to its movies that were given poor reviews by real critics and violated several federal laws in different controversies involving their music CDs as well. Sony revealed that its CDs had installed rootkits on its unknowing customer’s computers which

    … limited the devices on which the music could be played, restricted the number of copies that could be made, and contained technology that monitored their listening habits to send them marketing messages. According to the FTC, the software also exposed consumers to significant security risks and was unreasonably difficult to uninstall. (Federal Trade Commission, 2007 [emphasis added])

    These type of situations seem to be very common in the industry, “The music industry… It’s real shady… It’s really, really shady. It’s always been that way. It’s nothing new” (DJ Experience, personal communication, July 25, 2009).

    Another example of media promotional techniques concerns Mixtape DJs who sell illegal “bootleg” CDs. They are often hired by record labels to put new “leaked” songs on their mixtapes or to make an entire mixtape for an artist. The labels illegally hire them to boost an artist’s approval ratings or to promote a new artist because these DJs have loyal fan-bases that value their opinions and musical tastes. In 2007, DJs Drama and Don Cannon were arrested by the R.I.A.A. (Recording Industry Association of America) and a squad of county police for the selling of “illegal CDs”. A New York Times article explains how these mixtape DJs are well respected by numerous people in many target regions that record labels are interested in obtaining. The labels need to reach the largest consumer population possible. Labels such as Arista Records (currently owned by Sony) and Def Jam records have hired Drama and other DJs to make mixtapes for their artists. Young Jeezy and T.I., both now prominent rap artists, gained much fame due to Drama’s mixtapes.

    After the impromptu recording session, Geter started giving Drama unreleased T.I. songs and eventually asked him to produce and release a whole CD of T.I.’s work. When T.I.’s mixtape, ”Down With the King,” sold well, other managers started taking their artists to Drama’s studio. The first mixtape Drama was paid by a label to produce was ”Tha Streetz Iz Watchin,” which Def Jam’s CTE label hired him to make with Young Jeezy in 2004, in order to build up hype for a coming CD. When Jeezy’s official release, ”Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101,” came out in 2005, bearing a bonus track from the Drama mixtape, it sold two million copies.” (Shapiro, 2007)

    The labels not only send the DJs “leaked tracks,” but they also have the DJs record their sale information because, “[l]abels prefer to use established mixtape D.J.’s like Drama, rather than produce promotional CDs themselves … because “the best D.J.’s have a better brand than the average label does.” (Shapiro, 2007)

    Reflections and Conclusions

    I cannot say that I have many conclusions to draw from this information. There is little that I can do to assess the panoptic relationship between American media and my own life because I feel as though I know too little about it to make any true judgments about it. The principles and circumstances perpetuating the feedback loop are very strong and seem to require a slow and steady change in order to remove this panopticism from within the structures of the industry. I do not believe that any of the players in the industry, from the DJ to the head of a corporation, are bad people with a plot to destroy American art forms. These corporations are capitalist driven and cannot be blamed for doing what they are supposed to do, making money. They happen to be very proficient businesses and are good at what they do. Panoptic structures do govern their practices, but I cannot bring myself to try and blame the media companies for that. When asked about Hip-Hop culture, DJ Experience said that it had gone corporate and is about making money. When asked about whether or not he believes that it should be different in any way, he talked about how it would be foolish for him to make that type of judgment call because the “people collectively create the culture,” he alone could not make the assessment of what needs to change. He referred to a Gandhi quote to say that he feels he should simply “be the change he wants to see in the world” because “[i]t is up to the people to not support the direction it’s going in” (DJ Experience, personal communication, July 25, 2009). His words were resounding and related directly to the words of DJ He-Man when asked about his views on Hip Hop music. He said that it is all about making money now. He emphasized the point that, “[p]eople like to blame radio, but it’s really they gotta blame themselves” (DJ He-Man, personal communication, July 23, 2009). Upon conducting this research, his words seem very prevalent and make a substantial point.

    The social panopticism in media structures results from a blurred line between culture and advertisements coupled with the deceit of some industry companies. The DJs, who see both sides of the dynamic between the industry and the people, believe that the community made the culture that way. They see the state of entertainment culture and Hip-Hop music, what is ultimately a result of the panopticism, as self-inflicted situation for the consumer population. If this is truly the case and consumers are significantly responsible for the relationship developing in this way, then they too have the ability to change it if so desired. My research has revealed that there are a lot of hidden and manipulative tactics used by the industry companies to gain information about us, but the panoptic situation is mostly perpetuated because consumers never know when we are being advertised to. Consumers seem to not know for several reasons: the blending of society and commercialism, lack of media education, and lack of general knowledge about how the media companies operate. If this is the case, then a way to rid of media panopticism and create media that is truly reflective rather than deceptive might be to simply take note and question media intentions. Gramsci asks individuals to take norms to be neither natural nor inevitable and to always question the status quo. This project has brought me to believe that his ideas are very true in certain situations. In my opinion, this panoptic relationship between the media companies and the consumers is one of those situations. A lot of information about the media is available for the public to access. I would not have been able to do this project if that were not the case. There are many people in the general public who seem to just not know about much of this information; else the companies would not be able to continue to control the situation. I believe that the population needs to constantly try to observe and analyze the media as they do to us, else this relationship will continue to remain as a form of panopticism. The prisoners of the Panopticon were held captive by their cell walls. The “prison” that the consumers are in is that of a society they themselves have seemed to create. If so, the consumers have the ability to change that building’s shape and structure for the better, simply by the taking time to look and learn what needs to be changed.

    References

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    • Council of American Survey Research Organizations. Media facts: U.S. (and global) survey research industry. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from http://casro.org/
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    • Gramsci, A. (1975). The prison notebooks: Vol. III. J. A. Buttigieg (Ed. & Trans.). New York: Columbia University Press.
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    • Dretzin, R. & Goodman, B. (Producers). (2001) The merchants of cool: Creators of creators and marketers of popular culture for teenagers: Interview with Mark Crispin Miller. In Frontline. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cool/
    • Dretzin, R. & Goodman, B. (Producers). (2004) The persuaders : Interviews with Clotaire Rapaille. In Frontline. Retrieved August 13, 2009, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/
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    Figure 1: The Panopticon Model

    Bittle Dockery Darius Figure 1

    Figure 2: The Feedback Loop of the DJ and the Crowd

    Bittle Dockery Darius Figure 2

    Figure 3: The Feedback Loop of Media (The Radio DJ?) and Society

    Bittle Dockery Darius Figuer 3